Love Is A Relationship

1 John 4:7-21

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world.18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Gospel of John 15:1-8

1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

When is the last time you felt truly and completely loved?

Odds are that you weren’t loved by an institution, or an object. You were loved by a person. You were loved in relationship.

That is the truth that we come face to face with in our scripture this morning. That love isn’t done in the abstract. Love, according to 1 John, is lived out between people, who choose to be in relationship with one another, to abide with one another, to know one another rather than to pass each other by.

Now I don’t have to tell you all that if you know somebody long enough, you can probably come up with plenty of reasons why NOT to love them.  Time together exposes our humanity, our brokenness, and shatters the myth that we can do no wrong to one another, or that love will be easy.

Which means that perhaps the challenge of our time is getting to know one another. We are so busy, it is often easier to pass one another by, to wave from the front seat of the car at our neighbor, but never truly get to know them, to love them, to abide with them.

I say all of this because I have heard a rumor lately around our little borough.  From more than a few corners of our little town, I have heard that we aren’t all that friendly. Rumor has it that we talk about one another more than towards one another. That we are quick to report one another, and slow to knock on one another’s door and say hello.

You can think what you will about how true or not this is, but there it is.  Some of our own neighbors have experienced this town that you love as a place that is lacking in the relationship department. And you may agree or disagree with them, but either way, here’s what I think. I think that this says less about the people who live here, and more about the reality that perhaps we haven’t taken the time to know one another. There has been so much change in the community of our borough in the last ten years or so, and at the same time, our lives have gotten busier, and busier, and busier. We don’t have as much time to build relationships, and so we don’t. We settle for superficial ones, we know one another’s names but not each other’s hearts. The consequence being that many of us are lonelier in the crowd than ever before.

One of the things that people in this church often say about themselves is that they see this community as a family. They find love and acceptance in these walls. They feel known. Which makes me wonder whether we are perhaps in a unique position to minister to our own community. Perhaps our calling right now is to choose to love, by taking the time to know our neighbors as individuals and as beloved children of God, loved first in Christ.

We live in a world right now that is crying out in violence, and mistrust, and brokenness.  And so much of the pain that we see on the television, as close as Baltimore and as far from us as distant continents, has its roots in broken relationships. In people who no longer trust one another, nor believe the best in one another, because there is so much evidence to the contrary. And when people do not know and trust each other, they are less likely to respect them, more likely to see the worst rather than the best of intentions in every little action.

Celeste Fremon saw this first hand when she lived and worked amongst the Mexican gangs of Los Angeles. She is a writer who was interested in the work of Father Greg Boyle. Over many years embedded in the projects with Father Boyle, she came to know the gang bangers as complex people, began to love them, to care about them. She became the sort of person she never could have imagined—someone who would run towards gunfire, because it meant someone she loved might be hurt. And she came to see firsthand how the breakdown of relationship—in the family, in the community, in policing—is at the heart of the problem. And how real relationship, real love and affection, can begin to heal young men and women who for most of their lives have felt expendable and worthless.

Do you see where I am going here? Relationship becomes the cord that holds us together, or the one that tears us apart. It is the life blood of our community, the heart and soul of our life together.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

When we choose to love one another, when we go out of our way to build real and honest relationships with one another, then we find ourselves close to the true vine, to Jesus. We draw near to God, and abide in God as God abides in us. We bear the fruit of healing and healthy community that reflects the love of God back upon one another and to the world.

We draw near to God as well in this community whenever we come to the table. For at the table, we put aside the things that keep us apart from one another, and we remember that we are inextricably linked to God and one another. At the table, we renew our baptismal promise and affirm our oneness in Christ as we find nourishment and encouragement in the elements of bread and cup.

So here’s my suggestion for this week. Get out in your front yard, and get to know that neighbor you always wave at but rarely speak to. Invite them to dinner. Go for a walk. Find out what they are passionate about, and see if you don’t plant the seeds of relationship and community when you do. Be the sort of neighbor that you wish you had, and see if in doing so you don’t create the kind of community that we all need.

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. Amen.

Eli’s Tips and Tricks for Living Well

1Then God spoke all these words:

2I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.

4You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

13You shall not murder.

14You shall not commit adultery.

15You shall not steal.

16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Exodus 20:1-17

A man loses his favorite hat. He is devastated…. He wore that hat everywhere! But instead of buying a new one, he comes up with an idea. He decides he is going to go to the church down the road a steal one out of the vestibule while everyone is worshipping and praying.

So this man, he gets to the church, and as he opens the door the usher greets him, hands him a bulletin, and before you know it he is sitting in a pew, listening to the pastor’s sermon on “the Ten Commandments.”

After the service, the man walks up to the pastor and shakes her hand vigorously, and says to her, “I just want to thank you for saving my soul today! I came to your church to steal a hat, and after hearing your sermon on the 10 Commandments, I decided against it.”

The pastor smiles—she loves to hear that people are actually listening—and she says to him, “I guess the commandment, ‘thou shall not steal’ really made an impression on you?”

“Naw,” says the man. “When you got to the one on adultery, I remembered where I left my hat…”

Ten Commandments. Gotta love them. I have to admit, every time I read them, I am reminded of my little brother. When he was Amelia’s age, he used to get awfully angry at my sister and I for bossing him around, and when he couldn’t take it anymore he would yell at us, “DON’T COMMAND ME WHAT TO DO!”

We thought that was pretty hilarious—I mean, who uses the word command like that? Well, my brother did. As far as he was concerned, commandments are bossy pronouncements from your sisters.

But what are the commandments, really? As Christians, I think many of us have it in our heads that this is a part of “the Law” with a capital L. They certainly SOUND like laws, right?

Perhaps that is because we are so used to hearing that Jews are the people of the Law.

This past Friday, I joined two of our confirmation students and their parents on a visit to Ohev Shalom, the local synagogue in Richboro. Turns our their Rabbi lives right here in Ivyland. We spent an hour with him learning about the basics of Jewish faith and practice, and there is one word that I didn’t hear a single time while we were there. Do you want to guess what it was? Law.

But there was something else that we heard a whole lot about, and that was relationships. According to Rabbi Perlstein, the heart of Jewish faith is all about relationship—between you and God and you and your neighbor. Which is another way of saying that the heart of faith is covenantal life, those promises we make to one another and to God for the good of us all.

And that is the intent of the ten commandments. They are relational arrangements, best practices from a God who knows that we humans could benefit from some guidance on how to cultivate good and healthy relationships. Given our history, God decides perhaps we need reminders like:

And so God says to us:

Love the God who has continually had your back,

Be content with what you have

Remember to rest so that you can delight in the world God has made for you.

If we wish to think of these as laws, then they are the sort of common sense laws that are intended to give us MORE freedom, not less.

Here’s an example: some of you may know that I like to brew beer. Well, I also have dabbled with making bread over the years. And one thing that beer and bread have in common is that, despite the sheer variety of options, there is a very simple process. As long as you follow the rules and use the right ingredients, you will end up with a drinkable, edible, product. At first, those rules can seem constraining—it can seem like there are an awful lot of them. But once you are comfortable with those rules, once you have lived with them until they are second nature, THEN you find that there is an incredible amount of freedom in the process of creating something delicious.

The ten commandments are not all that different. They are the ingredients and the instructions that make for delicious living.   To honor one another, to respect one another, and to rest in God’s blessings makes for one heck of a life-affirming recipe, one that produces a people at peace with one another and God.

But there is more. These results of covenantal living—peace, life, freedom—it turns out that they are also the same things that we describe as the fruit of a relationship with Jesus Christ We tell one another that if you follow Jesus, then you will be formed into the sort of person who will love God and be a blessing to the world. You will seek peace and reconciliation. You will be a light to those living in the darkness.

This Jesus, whom we meet this morning driving out the moneychangers, has put on flesh amongst us so that we may see what freedom within God’s constraints looks like. He has shown us what it looks like to live a covenantal life, one that honors God and our neighbors. The Word Incarnate is the fulfillment of these commandments.

Except for one thing. When the Israelites were out in the desert, they see Moses speaking with God and they are so utterly terrified that they practically beg Moses to spare them from ever having to speak to God themselves. And so Moses becomes an intermediary, running up and down Mount Sinai with the Word of God for the people of God. But the people are always one step removed from the source—God is always veiled in cloud, or within the tabernacle in the desert.

But all of that changes with Jesus. For in Jesus, we come face to face with God’s Word. In Christ, we are no longer one step removed from God—the covenantal relationship that God desires for us is freely offered to us in the Temple of Christ’s body, what Paul called “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” We don’t have to go to a Temple or make a sacrifice or wait on a priest to speak with God—God becomes as close to us as breath, as near as our next prayer. In Jesus, God has moved into the neighborhood.

Here on the midpoint of Lent, let us give thanks for the One in whom we meet God face to face and by whom we are reconciled. And let us live the life of freedom that God intended for us as we honor one another and the Creator who made us and the world. Amen.